Writing about the television show Community seems to be becoming a weekly affair. This is because pretty much every episode this season has offered some profound insights. The episode that I have in mind for this post is “Geothermal Escapism” which aired Jan. 23. This one joins the ranks of other “epic” Community concept episodes that hook into a particular emotional element in the show. The conflict in this episode is the departure of long time character Troy Barnes. The concept that Community uses to deal with this transition is a campus wide game of “The Floor is Lava” (in which the winner receives a comic book of Abed’s worth 50,000).
Let me unpack that a bit… Abed, Troy’s best friend (who is also rumored to have Aspergers), often deals with his inaccessible emotions through his love for cinema and creating movie like scenarios. Thus, Troy’s departure provokes Abed to create a “post-apocalyptic” wasteland where the floor is lava.
As the episode progresses though we discover that for Abed the floor is actually lava because he can’t cope with the idea of Troy leaving (once again, for those of you unfamiliar with the show it is quite beautifully bizarre, but stick with me for a moment and it will make sense). At this point Abed decides that the only way for him to overcome his fear of Troy’s departure is to sacrifice himself to his own delusion and with that he falls into the lava lying on the floor “fake” but to him “real” dead.
At this point Britta, the psychology major, comes up with a brilliant idea: she collects a DNA sample from fake-dead Abed and fake-clones a new Abed who is able to deal with Troys departure. Following this Troy also admits his own fears to embark on his trip, but to this Abed suggests the same path. Sacrifice yourself to the lava floor and then your clone can take the trip for you.
Now, to be completely honest with you, the spiritual imagery would have escaped me here if it wasn’t for the episode review on avclub.com. Todd VanDerWerff writes:
“There’s something poignant about the idea of having to undergo death to be able to move forward in life. It’s an idea central to many philosophies and religions, that one must realize their own failings and let that self pass away to be able to be reborn as someone better and more mature. If I had to choose a moment in the episode that best exemplifies this idea, it’s that shot of Troy falling backward into the lava that only his friend can see, so he, too, can be cloned and become a newer, better Troy, one who will be ready to face the challenges of the life ahead.”
When the Apostle Paul was challenged on the here-and-now relevance of justification by faith he didn’t sidestep the question, take back the absurdity of grace (one-way love), or even try to offer advise on how to live the “victorious” Christian life; rather he simply proclaimed that:
Romans 6:2-3 How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Commenting on this idea theologian Gehard Forde writes:
“Grace is the divine pronouncement itself… the flash of lightning exploding in our darkness which reveals all truth simultaneously, the truth about God and the truth about us… It establishes an entirely new situation… that declaration is our death and our life, the new beginning. It is the act which re-creates, redeems God’s creation… To hear and believe the word of justification for Jesus’ sake is to die and be raised in him.
To put it in Community terms, when you heard the Gospel news of God’s one-way love through Jesus Christ, it simultaneously threw you into the lava pit and raised you anew. The news that God alone works our salvation unmasks our sin, kills us, and creates us anew.
More than this, death to life is also the way we traverse through the entirety of our lives. As Martin Luther writes, “To progress is to begin again.” In other words, the Christian life is not about ascending to higher and higher levels of holiness, but is rather about returning day in and day out to where God threw us in the lava pit. As Forde writes elsewhere:
“Sin is not defeated by a repair job, but by dying and being raised new… Since we always are confronted and given grace as a totality, we find ourselves always starting fresh… The Christian who is grasped by the totality of grace always discovers the miracle anew. One is always at a new beginning. Grace is new everyday.”
As a result…
“Progress, if one can call it that, is that we are being shaped more and more by the totality of the grace coming to us… Under the pressure of the total gift, we might actually begin to love God as God, our God, and to hate sin.”
Simply put, by returning in the midst of life’s impasses to our “lava floor” to look at the amazing things God has done (saving those who cannot save themselves), our hearts are ever more captivated by the extravagant one-way nature of grace. When this happens we may actually begin to acquiesce the impasse into God’s hands and with Abed and Troy fall into the lava. Our Christian lives start and continue in the “lava floor.” Thanks Troy and Abed for quietly reminding me of this profound truth…
Check out the episode for yourself: http://www.nbc.com/community/episode-guide/season-5/geothermal-escapism/505
Gerhard Forde “Death to Life” & “The Preached God”
John Z. “Grace in Addiction“